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Health Discovery

Don’t Give Up on Older Smokers

Older smokers may be more motivated to quit smoking than younger smokers because of health problems.

Older smokers may make better quitters.

That’s the surprising finding from an analysis of a 16-week smoking cessation program at Florida State University (FSU). Contrary to conventional wisdom, which holds that older adult smokers are “lost causes” when it comes to quitting, researchers found that older smokers are more receptive to and often more successful at quitting than younger smokers.

Why? FSU psychologist Brad Schmidt says the motivation that inspires people to quit differs among younger and older smokers.

“Health factors seem to be really important for many older smokers. Whereas younger smokers are aware that smoking has health effects, health reasons are not the primary motivation that gets them to quit.”

Schmidt and his FSU colleague Natalie Sachs-Ericsson studied 37 participants in a university smoking cessation program, half of whom were age 55 and over. A month after the 16-week program, nearly 70 percent of the older participants were smoke-free, versus 44 percent of the younger smokers.

The findings, presented by the researchers in November at a meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in New York, contradict some of the accepted theories about smoking cessation.

“The old way of thinking about this,” Schmidt says, “is that telling smokers about health risks doesn’t make a difference. We don’t think that’s accurate for older adults. For older smokers, the health stuff does seem to matter.” One reason for this: Older smokers are beginning to experience some of the health problems associated with long-term tobacco use, Schmidt says.

The researchers say they hope this study will help change minds and attitudes of physicians who tend to give up on older smokers.

University of Vermont psychologist Michael J. Zvolensky calls the research “timely and important . . . This work addresses an often neglected issue in the smoking-cessation literature.”

For older adults who are still puffing away, Schmidt says, the message is that it’s never too late to quit. “Even if you’ve been a long-term smoker, the more you try to quit, the more likely you’ll be successful. Don’t give up on yourself!”

John Hanc writes about fitness and health.

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